A potential new virus that could cause a pandemic has been discovered (and it’s not a coronavirus)

Scientists say there is a new swine flu strain in China that could become a pandemic. 

In a research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 29, Chinese scientists warned that the new flu strain, called “G4 EA H1N1,” has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.” 

“Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented,” the research article said. 

This new swine flu is similar to the swine flu that swept the country in 2009. Both flu strains have the same G4 genotype, which the scientists say indicates that this new swine flu could be dangerous—particularly for people under the age of 65, the demographic most widely impacted by H1N1 in 2009.  

People become susceptible to swine flu when they come into contact with pigs, which the article says are “intermediate hosts for the generation of pandemic influenza virus.” 

Scientists have already found that 10.4% of swine workers tested were positive for the G4 EA H1N1 virus. The data shows that participants 18-35 years old had a 20.5% (nine of 44) seropositive rate. The scientists say that indicates that the “predominant G4 EA H1N1 virus has acquired increased human infectivity.” It’s that indicator of infectivity that leads the article to conclude that there’s a higher chance for virus adaptation in humans, which “raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses.”

Professor Kin-Chow Chang, who works at Nottingham University in the U.K., told the BBC that this new virus should not be ignored.  

“Right now, we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so,” he said. “But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization told the BBC that it is looking into the research article’s findings. 

“Eurasian avian-like swine influenza virus are known to be circulating in the swine population in Asia and to be able to infect humans sporadically,” the spokesperson said. “Twice a year during the influenza vaccine composition meetings, all information on the viruses is reviewed, and the need for new candidate vaccine viruses is discussed. We will carefully read the paper to understand what is new.”

Experts say somewhere between 700 million-1.4 billion people contracted the swine flue during the 2009 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 151,700-575,400 people died from H1N1 worldwide. Of those who died, scientists believe 80% were people younger than 65. 

Now, administered seasonal flu shots protect against the H1N1 swine flu strain from 2009, according to the CDC. The flu shot does not protect against the new strain, although the BBC reports that it could be adapted if needed.

Sources: PNAS, BBC, CDC 

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